How a journalist in London helped save 6 women trapped inside a truck in France

How a journalist in London helped save 6 women trapped inside a truck in France
As It Happens6:44How a journalist in London helped save 6 women trapped in the back of a truck in France

BBC journalist Khue B Luu received a message on Wednesday asking for "urgent help." She had to make a decision quickly; was it a hoax, or was it real?

"I don't know who he was. And he didn't want to be identified," the London journalist told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

"He told me that he knew that there was a group of six young women hiding in a lorry that was on the move, but he didn't know where they were at the moment and the way the lorry was heading to."

The women were found in a refrigerated truck full of boxes of bananas, without the driver's knowledge, headed toward northern France. The women were hoping to go the U.K., but realized through the location they were seeing on their phone that they weren't going the right way.

While all six of the women, who are suspected to be migrants, are in good health following the ordeal, four of them have been asked to leave the country within the next 30 days, according to a report by the BBC. The other two have been allowed to stay and request asylum. 

Four of the women were from Vietnam; the other two were from Iraq. 

The situation was very real to Luu. She had covered a story years before about people who died while being smuggled in the back of a truck.

Her instincts told her the man was truthful, and she couldn't risk inaction if it was real. So she decided it was better to jump into action.

"If it's true, if it's real … then I must do something very quickly. Otherwise maybe it's too late," said Luu. 

She didn't have much to go on. The man she was talking to didn't have the vehicle's registration number. 

But he agreed to put Luu in touch with the women. They connected over a popular messaging app in Vietnam called Zalo. 

A logo is show above a building entrance.
A team of BBC journalists were able to work together to help the six women. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The rescue

The women didn't want to reveal their identities, but they were able to share information, bit by bit, through messages and videos.

"They just sent me over the clips of what was inside, and in one clip I heard a voice, a female voice, said that 'I can take a breath,'" said Luu.  

She was able to find out what condition they were in, how many people were in the truck, and most importantly, a rough approximation of where they were. The women used the phone to share their location with Luu. They were in France, travelling in a refrigerated truck that was just 6 C inside.

Luu began co-ordinating with some of her BBC colleagues. Since she didn't speak French, she needed someone to contact the police there for her. Through that colleague, Luu sent constant screenshots of the truck's location. 

Because the location was on a delay, it took some time for police to identify and locate the vehicle.

Luu says the whole ordeal was a hectic two hours. "I feel very, very lucky. And I feel very thankful," said Luu. 

French prosecutor Laetitia Francart said the truck driver was not at fault, and also called police after hearing noise coming from his trailer.

Police stand in front of a transport truck.
Forensic police officers attend the scene after a truck was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, in Grays, England, on Oct. 23, 2019. (Alastair Grant/AP)

Luu believes she was contacted because she covered the death of a group of people who were stuck in the back of a truck in 2019, which gained international attention. 

There, 39 people died in the back of a truck, and a man was arrested as part of a human smuggling operation.

"I really wish that I would never receive any call for help like this in my life," said Luu. 

She hasn't been able to talk more to the woman involved. She says that even though some might criticize the woman for the dangerous attempt to flee, we can't know the situation they were trying to leave. 

"If we are not in this situation, we can't answer for them. And after I … interviewed a lot of illegal migrants on this subject, they always said that they got a reason to do so, but they never disclosed the true reason," said Luu.